Those who know me know that lately I've been obsessed with the show "No Reservations." For those who haven't seen it, it is a bit difficult to describe; a former NY chef travels the world, eating and meeting locals and generally just experiencing (as opposed to being a tourist). Part of my interest is vicarious; I would dearly love to be the places he is going, meeting the people he is meeting, and especially (except for some very specific instances of warthog rectum and fermented shark) eat the things he is eating. There's another part that is inspirational; we'd love to have our own restaurant someday (fully knowing how likely it is to fail, how much work it would be, and how much money we'd have to have to invest) and the various places that he goes provide copious examples of what we'd like to do and what we wouldn't. Of course, in the meantime it also provides delicious ideas for dinner that my family and friends benefit from (one day soon we WILL be eating sichuan hot pot... maybe one day when the kids aren't here...)
The show generally involves Tony eating lots of street and local foods, talking to locals, being given whatever the local hooch is, being a snarky New Yorker only in the voiceover while being infallibly polite and even downright sweet to his hosts - and almost always exclaiming how good the food and drink he is imbibing is.
One thought that formed in my mind while watching the show was "If this show were to come to northern wisconsin, where and what would I want to show them?" What is truly great around here, unpretentious, awesome, not full of crap.... or maybe just weird and unique?
I tried to think of things that were really local; nothing that had a branch elsewhere; things to do that were uniquely north-central Wisconsin.
If it came in winter, Rib Mountain skiing is cool, but maybe Sylvan Hill tubing is more unique. In summer, tubing on the lake and eating fresh caught bluegill (I know a couple people who are expert fisherman - you know who you are), thrown in Shore Lunch and fried up, is possibly one of the best things in life. Brats boiled in beer and thrown on the grill to brown, drinking homemade "Apple Pie". The fair, with deep fried cheese curds.
We've got some really amazing food options. In Merrill itself is Big Haas BBQ, with the butt chop sandwich being one of the best things I've stuck in my face (their fries are only so-so, but at least they are made from actual potatoes). Geiss Meat Service is where we get most of our meat, and it's all wonderful, but their sausages are spectacular and worth a visit by themselves. Chips is an institution, and it's all-American fast food done right (when there's that much flame and smoke, there's something good going on). In Wausau Red Eye Brewing company has GREAT locally brewed beer and tasty vittles served (mostly) without pretension. Pho 76 makes the national dish of Vietnam (and by co-incidence, one of Anthony Bourdain's very favorite meals) phenomenally well, and would provide a bit of insight into the local Hmong culture.
Then of course there's the cheese. If you ask me, the best around comes from Hollands Family Cheese in Thorp. Yes, it's mostly Gouda, but its the best Gouda I've ever had and am ever likely to have. I can't think of any other cheese I've fallen in love with quite as hard.
I'd also take them on a tour of all our closed factories. Like it or not, that's currently a part of our culture.
If you had only a couple of days and really wanted to give someone a taste of what northern WI is, where would you take them?